Lighted Nocks Getting Bowhunters Fired Up

A battle is brewing in Montana over the use of lighted nocks on arrows, which currently are prohibited there, and legislative debate is now brewing about a bill paving the way for their possible use.

By Alan Clemons, Managing Editor

Lighted nocks have blazed on the archery scene, pun intended, in the last few years. Nocturnals, Lumenoc, and others offer the brightly colored battery-powered nocks for arrows.

They do nothing to assist a hunter in the course of the actual hunt: the process of scouting, drawing a bow, releasing an arrow, practicing in the yard or, hopefully, hitting the intended target in the kill zone for a successful shot.

Zilch. Zero. That little lighted nock doesn’t make you a better hunter.

What they do, however, is possibly help make you better at recovering game if you’ve done everything else correctly. A pass-through shot will, if in the proper area, leave what should be the beginning of a blood trail to follow, if need be. Unless the arrow skitters away too far, it should be in close proximity of the intended target and can lead a hunter to find the starting point.

Or, if there’s not a pass-through, the lighted nock could more easily assist the hunter in finding the deer, antelope, elk or other game animal after following the blood trail. We all discuss how that aspect, blood trailing, is part of the hunting process, and it is. But again, in the course of the actual shot and preparation, that little lighted nock doesn’t make the arrow fly straighter or calm your nerves or provide X-amount of feet per second on your arrow.

It’s a beneficial tool for game recovery, flat and simple.

The Montana Bowhunters Association and the Montana Fish, Parks & Wildlife agency disagree. That’s their right, of course. The association works for bowhunters, as do other associations throughout the country. The state agency is charged with protecting and preserving the game species. Currently, in their views, the lighted nocks are a step over the line into … something else. What, exactly, I don’t know.

We, hunters, already have compound bows that fling arrows at 340 fps. The bows have carbon limbs, fiber optic sights, lightweight arrow rests and other high-tech advancements. Arrows are lighter, smaller diameter and fly better with carbon fiber technology and fletchings that provide more stability. Fixed blade and expandable blade broadheads are incredibly better.

We use laser range finders and electronic ear muffs that increase sounds while momentarily decreasing the noise of a gun’s muzzle blast. We have trail cameras that provide, in some cases, 24/7 computer feeds of animals on trails or around feeders. In some states, trail cameras are prohibited or limited for hunting use, too, though.

Yet, a tiny lighted nock that can assist in the recovery of a game animal, one of the most basic tenets of hunting, is a bad thing?

That doesn’t make sense. It just doesn’t.

Montana’s debate has reached its Legislature, with a bill being pushed through that would pave the way for possible use of lighted nocks. Read about it here, and the debate from both sides.

Letters to the Editor, like this one, are coming in from both sides of the issue.

Even the editorial board of the Missoulan newspaper weighed in with its own stamp of approval. Kudos to the newspaper’s editorial board – Publisher Jim McGowan, Editor Sherry Devlin, Opinion Editor Tyler Christensen – for at least taking a look at a hunting issue. Whether you agree or disagree with the use of lighted nocks, it’s hard to argue about a media outlet that isn’t afraid to jump into the fray on a hot topic like this instead of just ignoring it for something insipid like flowers in a park or the local chili cookoff being a happy event for everyone.

Several years ago in my home state, Alabama, the issue of being able to use decoys for turkeys was brought up over and over. The state wildlife agency prohibited their use for years, and also for scopes on muzzleloader rifles, and was steadfast. Their argument was that decoys weren’t as sporting and hunters shouldn’t need them. Hunters argued for at least the option to choose for decoys, or scopes on muzzleloaders, and the change ultimately was made to approve both.

Some hunters chose to use decoys and scopes on muzzleloaders. Some did not. The upside was that instead of a prohibition that had no biological basis, hunters were afforded the choice. They could be as traditional as desired – flintlock rifle, inline with no scope, no turkey decoys – the same way bow hunters could use a stick and string or recurve instead of a compound bow with all the bells and whistles.

Lighted nocks provide the same situation. They are not biologically harmful to the species. They can assist in game recovery. Offering the choice to use them should be afforded to hunters in Montana, and elsewhere if they’re prohibited, instead of a flat-out “no” with nothing more than an obstinate line in the sand.

The Missoulan editorial noted as much, too:

In fact, Montana Outfitters and Guides Association Executive Director Jean Johnson recognized the greater importance of finding wounded or killed animals when she spoke in support of HB26.

There’s a simple answer for those who don’t want to use lighted nocks: don’t use them. Feel free to be as primitive as you like – but don’t make it illegal for others to make more contemporary choices.

Any additional electronic exceptions proposed in the future – and there are sure to be more as new technology emerges – can be debated on their own merits.

I agree. Barring some kind of detrimental biological impact to a game species, lighted nocks offer benefits that outweigh their prohibition. And if, in the future, someone wants to use a sight that projects laser beams or broadheads with 3-inch flaming tips or a turkey decoy that flaps like it’s shaking off a gallon of water after a thunderstorm, take those into consideration one at a time.

But don’t just say “No” simply because you can.

Alan Clemons is Deer & Deer Hunting’s Managing Editor.